An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
Devotees of that formidably superb series, `The Oxford History of the Laws of England' will be delighted that the last three volumes of the series, Volumes XI, XII and XIII are now out and about - published as a set - for the edification of legal scholars everywhere, as well as interested general readers.
They cover 1820-1914 - from the coronation of George IV to the outbreak of World War I -- the Great War -- against Germany. The dizzying pace of economic, technological and social change during this turbulent period - encompassing the Victorian era of course -- gave rise to momentous legal developments and in turn were profoundly affected by them.
Like the rest of the series, which, commendably, draws heavily on research using unpublished materials, these three volumes provide a detailed survey of English law, its institutions and the historical forces which impinged on them.
As the authors point out in the introduction, `any legal history worth salting' must deal not only with the law, but how and why it developed - `the shifts in the law itself and the rationalizations offered for them'. A legal history should also look at outcomes, say the authors,`for most legal change produces unintended effects.' And so it transpires in these three erudite and very readable volumes.
Volume XI deals for the most part with the structure of the English legal system, including its constitutional framework. Volume XII deals with Private law and its evolution and adaptation to a more complex age, expanding on issues concerning property, contract, commercial law and tort.
Volume XIII covers five `topics', enumerated by the authors in the endearingly titled `Manifest' (Most authors would call this a `preface', wouldn't they, or maybe a `foreword'?
But no, these volumes have a `manifest' instead, like a ship's manifest which lists the ship's cargo. `Here, it is the readers who undertake the inspection of the hold,' the authors add in a droll footnote.) Now that's what we like; solid scholarship enlivened with just a light touch of whimsy here and there. But we digress.
Volume XIII's five topics include criminal law, law as an instrument of social protection and control, family law, labour law and rights relating to personality and intellectual property. The focus is on the major ways in which all these aspects of law changed between 1820 and 1914 and, we might add, shaped the modern world.
Eminently readable, the volumes also provide Tables of Cases and of Statutes. There is a Names Index and Volumes XI and XII and a subject index. In Volume XIII, these indices cover all three volumes, so you have little excuse not to be able to find what you're looking for therein.
If you are seeking that special insight and degree of authority, conferred by depth of understanding and breadth of knowledge of the development and evolution of the law, we can scarcely think of a more vital and valuable addition to your law library.